LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO Feb 19 A U.S. judge ruled
on Tuesday that BP Plc recovered 810,000 barrels of oil
from its 2010 spill site and that this amount should be excluded
from certain penalties it may face, cutting its maximum fine by
as much as $3.5 billion.
Just days before he presides over a spill-related civil
trial due to start on Feb. 25 in New Orleans, U.S. District
Judge Carl Barbier deemed those barrels as 'collected' during
the spill. BP had sought this reduction in the penalty-relevant
total more than a month ago.
"The 'Collected Oil' flowed from the subsurface reservoir,
through the well, through the blow-out preventer, and never came
into contact with any ambient sea water, and was not released to
the environment in any way," the ruling said.
Earlier, the British oil company said the U.S. Department of
Justice backed its assertion that the oil recovered directly
from the leaking Macondo well should not count when it comes to
fines that could be levied under the U.S. Clean Water Act.
"Under the Clean Water Act, civil penalties are assessed
only on oil that has actually entered the environment and
potentially caused harm," BP said in a statement on Tuesday.
BP also repeated that the total 4.9 million spilt barrels
estimate made by the U.S. government in its claim against BP,
including barrels recovered, was too high by 20 percent.
The maximum fine payable under the act is $4,300 per barrel,
so a calculation based on 4.9 million barrels spilt would have
forced BP to pay as much as $21 billion under the Clean Water
Act, on top of any other fines and penalties, if BP was found
guilty of "gross negligence."
Without the gross negligence finding, the fine could be up
to $1,100 per barrel - or $5.4 billion - so that potential fine
was cut by nearly $900 million with the ruling on Tuesday.
Separately, Barbier signed on Tuesday a $1 billion civil
settlement between the U.S. government and Transocean related to
the spill, which had been struck last month. Transocean's
Deepwater Horizon rig was destroyed in the blowout.
The overall civil case under Barbier is In re: Oil Spill by
the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April
20, 2010, No. 10-md-02179, in the U.S. District Court, Eastern
District of Louisiana.